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Rams on same page - One at a time

August 25, 2002|by DAN KAUFFMAN

kauffman@herald-mail.com

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - One after another, Shepherd College football players shared the same motto at the team's annual Media Day gathering Saturday: Take things one game at a time.

It's a lesson reinforced by recent history. Shepherd started 6-0 last season and was riding momentum toward a West Virginia Conference championship and NCAA Division II playoff spot. But losses to Glenville State and West Virginia Wesleyan washed out those dreams and left the Rams sitting at home during postseason play.

"All of us got a bitter taste in our mouths," said Jamal Gardner, the team's top returning receiver. "We were thinking three-fourths of the way through the season we'd make the playoffs."

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"You buy a little into the hype at 6-0 and you start thinking 10-0," said defensive back Matt Meadows, whose seven interceptions last year led the conference. "You have to stay focused on the next team. You can be 9-0, lose the last game and be out of the (Division II) playoffs in our conference."

Bitten by an injury to star tailback Travis Lynch late in the first quarter against Glenville State, the Rams tied the game in the fourth, only to watch the Pioneers use a late touchdown drive to ruin Shepherd's perfect record.

Two weeks later, the Rams were upset by the Bobcats for the first time since 1995.

"I don't like to admit it, but we never recovered from the first loss and that cost us the second loss," said Shepherd coach Monte Cater, who takes the blame for the second loss.

Expectations are high once again. Shepherd was voted by conference coaches as the preseason favorite to win the conference title and is ranked No. 22 in Division II by the American Football Coaches Association.

But one year removed from disappointment, no one's taking anything for granted.

"We're definetly ready to put last year behind us," Lynch, the team's leading rusher last year with 1,146 yards, said. "(Last year) was a total letdown. ... We've got to stay more focused and take each game as it comes. We can't worry about what's two or three games ahead, we have to focus on the next game."

"We'll find out how we'll respond," Cater said. "If we play a bad half, or if we stumble, we'll find out how focused we are."

Shepherd has two weeks of training camp left before playing its traditional opening game against Shippensburg on the road. It will be the first opportunity for the Rams to put last year behind them for good, while rewriting the script for this year.

"There was a lot of excitement for the first week (of camp), but we've still got two weeks before the opener," quarterback Joel Gordon said. "We're ready to start playing someone else instead of banging on each other.

"We're excited for that Shippensburg game," Lynch said. "We just want it to get here sooner than it will."

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